An expert has warned that Brexit negotiations with the EU could continue for half a century – as Britain tries to improve the existing deal it has agreed.
Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, told the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change that the UK could end up like Switzerland – a country which has been in negiotiation limbo since the mid-seventies.
Grant warned that very little had been settled with the Brexit deal that decides the UK’s long-term relationship with the bloc.
He said: “Nothing is really fixed, Britain is out of the EU for a generation and that’s fixed but the future is open to all sorts for questions.
“I think we’re going to be in non-stop negotiations for at least 50 years with the EU as the Swiss will tell you who started in the mid-seventies and have never stopped negotiating with the EU.
“I think five key questions will determine the nature of the future relationship.
“The first is will the UK diverge or not, it’s won this wonderful freedom to diverge but will it want to exercise that freedom.
“My suspicion is at a symbolic level, it will seem to diverge, but in practice, it won’t diverge a lot but I may be wrong on that.
“Secondly will it try to improve on the terms of the deal but I hope so as it’s a pretty rough deal as the musicians have discovered this week and fisherman have discovered last week.”
Grant also suggested that there could be plenty of “arbitration mechanisms” involving “lots of lawyers” much like the initial deal, unless the government can “work out a more friendly political relationship based on restoring trust”.
He said on key issues affecting Britain and the EU it would also be “better to be in the room occasionally, not at the top table because we’re never going to be at the top table again, but we could be at the bottom table occasionally given a chance to say a few things to shape the debate”.
And finally he asked whether the Northern Ireland protocol is sustainable.
“I think a lot of people in Northern Ireland will find it really uncomfortable being cut off to some degree from Great Britain”.
“Some people in the Tory party and some people in the DUP in Northern Ireland would love for that protocol to be torn up, so is that stanable, I don’t know.”
Grant added Labour could try to rejoin a number of EU institutions if elected to power.
He said: “I think a future Labour government will certainly try and improve the nature of it and it’ll certainly try and rejoin the Erasmus student exchange programme, for example.”
He suggested Keir Starmer could also consider looking at “some kind of” customs union, if he were to be elected to government.